Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Book Review: 'Billabong Bend (The Wild Australia Stories #3)' by Jennifer Scoullar

Billabong Bend by Jennifer Scoullar
‘She knew that face. She’d known it all her life.’

Australian author Jennifer Scoullar has seven novels published in Australia: Wasp Season, Brumby’s Run, Currawong Creek, Billabong Bend, Turtle Reef, Journey's End, and Fortune's Son. Her passion for the outdoors and animals influences her writing. All her life she's ridden and bred horses, in particular Australian Stock Horses. She is considered by many to be one of Australia's favorite storytellers.

There is a flavor to Jennifer’s writing that cold only be ignited by knowing Australia – lyrical, pertinent to the flora and fauna, and a land lover’s perception of it. We meet Nina in just that sort of luxurious atmosphere – ‘Shotguns boomed and boomed again, shattering the morning peace of the marshlands, startling the roosting nankeen night heron into laboured flight. What on earth? Nina lowered her camera and steered the little runabout towards the gunshots. There, in the distance, past the bank of river red gums weeping in the heat – a tinny with two men in camo gear, weapons raised. A succession of deafening blasts echoed off the water, drowning out Nina’s air horn as she powered towards them. The stench of gunpowder reached her nose and rage rose in her throat like bile. Damn them. A mixed flock of wood ducks and teal were flapping away, well outside the fifty-metre range of an average shotgun. These men were the most incompetent poachers ever. As Nina drew near, they turned their heads at the blare of her horn. ‘This is private property,’ she yelled. ‘Get off my land!’ These wetlands belonged to her in spirit, just as she belonged to them. One man was fat, and swigged from a beer can. The other man was taller, older, with a bushy beard. He sneered and played with his gun. ‘You’ve got a mouth on you, sweetheart.’ A movement caught her eye, something dark floating in the water. The shadow took shape: a lifeless black swan. Nina uttered an anguished cry and slammed on the throttle. The man’s sneer turned to a look of alarm. He aimed high and pulled the trigger Birdshot exploded overhead as she closed in, but fury made her fearless. Pelican’s heavy hull rammed the tinny. Its impact launched the men, weapons and all, into the water where they floundered, gasping for air.’

Forming a romance from this beginning entices the first-time reader of Jennifer’s stories, the plot of which is as follows – ‘Can Nina protect the wild place she holds so close to her heart? Or will the man she once loved destroy it? For Nina Moore, the rare marshland flanking the beautiful Bunyip River is the most precious place on Earth. Her dream is to buy Billabong Bend and protect it forever, but she’s not the only one with designs on the land. When her childhood sweetheart, Ric Bonelli, returns home, old feelings are rekindled and Nina dares to dream of a future for them both on the river. But a tragic death divides loyalties and threatens to tear apart their fledgling relationship. This star-crossed rural romance sets Nina, a floodplains grazier, and Ric, a traditional cotton farmer, on a heart-rending collision course amid the beauty of northern New South Wales.’

Rich in color and sensitive to character development and all in an unmistakenly Australian mode, BILLABONG BEND is a fine introduction to the talents of Jennifer Scoullar. Recommended on every level.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.